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'It looked apocalyptic;' Bay Area slowly recovers from deadly bomb cyclone windstorm

Hurricane-force winds batter Bay Area along with heavy rains from latest storm
Hurricane-force winds batter Bay Area along with heavy rains from latest storm 09:54

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you need any reminder of the sheer force of Mother Nature, just drive down any street, in any San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood. Debris, fallen branches, toppled trees, damaged homes and vehicles is scattered about everywhere.

Even during this extraordinary nearly three months of winter weather, Tuesday's onslaught of cyclonic winds will long be remembered.

"Wow, even by the standards of what has turned out to be one of our most extraordinary winter seasons in a very long time, yesterday stands out," the National Weather Service said of the storm. "Explosive cyclogenesis over the eastern Pacific resulted in a 984 mb low pressure center just west of the San Mateo County coast, and associated widespread strong and damaging winds and flooding rains."

While the winds subsided late Tuesday night, the rains did not. The weather service issued an overnight flood advisory for the entire Bay Area.

"Our weather circumstances are now settling down a bit as we progress into the third day of Spring," NWS forecasters said early Wednesday. "From an impact perspective, focus today will be on the hydro side with a number of creeks and streams presently still at or above flood stage."

Tree that fell onto vehicle during storm, killing one person inside an injuring another, is seen in Walnut Creek, Calif. on evening of March 21, 2023. @ContraCostaFire

Unfortunately, the storm also proved to be deadly. Two people were killed and four others critically injured by falling trees.

Among the victims was worker -- identified Jesus Ivan Cruz-Diaz, 29, from San Jose -- who was killed when a tree toppled onto his work van in Portola Valley.

 Meanwhile in Rossmoor Tuesday evening, a large tree fell onto a car while traveling on Stanley Dollar. The driver sustained minor injuries and the passenger -- identified as Thomas Huster of Walnut Creek -- died in the accident. 

Two of those critically injured were taken to a local hospital after a tree fell on them on Post and Polk streets in San Francisco, fire officials said.  

The storm was enhanced by a rarity called the "Fujiwhara Effect" which is the interaction between two similarly sized low-pressure centers rotating around a common center.   

What is the Fujiwhara Effect and how did it impact Tuesday's storm 02:25

San Francisco Airport reported a peak wind gust of 64
mph with an even more remarkable 74 mph peak wind at Oakland Airport.  

Wind gusts reached 76 mph in Santa Cruz mountain communities, including Boulder Creek.

Resident Frank Kuhr waited for hours Tuesday afternoon at a downtown supermarket for crews to remove large redwoods that were blocking a highway. "Trees are down everywhere," Kuhr said. "The wind has been unbelievable. Branches were flying through the air, and folks could hear trees just falling and cracking."

"This one's a doozy," Kuhr said.

In San Francisco, a barge slammed into the Third Street bridge, damaging a walkway used by baseball fans to get to Oracle Park.

Windstorm: Barge rams into San Francisco's Third Street Bridge 00:23

Windows were damaged in at least three high-rise buildings including the Millennium and Salesforce Towers , a big rig was blown over on the Bay Bridge shutting down eastbound lanes for hours, creating a traffic nightmare for anyone attempting to get to the East Bay.

Many residents like Montara's Andrea Higdon were left with homes or vehicles crushed by falling trees. She was in bed at 1:30 a.m. when she was awoken by a thunderous crash.

"I was sleeping, I just heard this bang, I knew it was a tree," she said. "It was really loud and really close. I opened outdoors and it smelt like a Christmas tree, I came out and three of our cars, a tree from across the street, just slammed the cars."

In San Francisco, winds whipped up waves on the Bay and knocked down giant trees along the Embarcadero. Pedestrians also proved to be no match against the windstorm. People struggled to walk and clung onto street posts to keep their balance. 

"The windows on the 28th floor of the building where we work at were literally shaking, and when we were looking outside the window, we could see waves crashing on the pier, it looked crazy, it looked apocalyptic," said Andre Spinoglio.  

A toppled tree also struck an Amtrak commuter train carrying 55 passengers near Porta Costa. It derailed, but fortunately remained upright and nobody was injured.

On the Bay Bridge, the evening commute to the East Bay was transformed into a nightmare when a gust of wind jackknifed a big rig, blocking several lanes beginning at 4 p.m. 

Authorities on the scene of an overturned big-rig on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge on March 21, 2023. SFFD PIO

The winds also downed power lines across the region. Pacific Gas and Electric reported as of early Wednesday there were more than 86,500 customers without power. The vast majority of the outages were in the East Bay and on the San Francisco Peninsula.

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